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Today’s Office: Sir Martin Sorrell on less travel and more walks with his dog

Famously one of the busiest people in advertising, Sir Martin Sorrell has long led a jetsetting lifestyle, travelling the world to meet clients, speak at events and grow his businesses. So, how has the S4Capital executive chairman adapted to pandemic-imposed restrictions?

I’m working from the office, where we have a skeleton crew (all properly socially distanced, masked and sanitised), and have been ever since lockdown restrictions were eased, walking here or taking a taxi with Ferus every day.

And I’m sitting at my desk, with my iPad screen on a stand and CNBC squawk box on permanently behind. I have, of course, the requisite dog bowl and mat for Ferus, and if I turn 90 degrees to the right I have a good view of Lord Rothschild’s Spencer House.

There aren’t any particular challenges with this set-up. We were built for digital and going virtual has brought opportunities (eg robotic production, animation, virtual revenue streams) rather than problems. The only issue is agility, and we have it.

Of course, we miss the social interaction, but I am now no longer one of those old people (and I’m not being ageist, like some!) that believe you have to see people in the office to know what they’re doing.

I think much of the concern is not so much about maintaining or developing culture, but about control. I agree that culture can be affected, and particularly for new entrants, but there are ways of using and developing the new technologies to build connection. Zoom can be tiresome, I know, but on balance it has enabled us to become even more connected and aligned and unitary.

Sitting at a screen all day is tiring, both mentally and physically, but if you use the technology in creative ways (eg how MediaMonks in New York is using Fortnite to interact and engage with clients) it’s amazing what you can do with a little bit of creative technological thought.

My day isn’t all that different than before. I’m up around 6am, then it’s email, breakfast, walk to the office, meetings online, lunch (although there are very few, if any, lunch appointments now), meetings online in the afternoon and early evening, and home by about 8pm. Sometimes I’ll have dinner out, but curfew brings us back in time for the 10pm news and Emily Maitlis on Newsnight, and then it is off to sleep.

The big difference is there is little or no travel (although I am planning to make my first moves). Actually, I feel better for not having to travel and, for example, arriving at a hotel at 11pm only to be woken at 4am for a conference call.

One of the interesting things about Covid-19 – apart from digital transformation acceleration – is that it has drawn people more together. Eight of us meet virtually every day at around 2pm GMT to discuss our people, our clients and our finances. We spend about half an hour together usually and keep up to date, agility being the key corporate attribute required.

It’s a tough thing to say, but Covid-19 plays to our strengths – agility, pure play digital and unitary structure.

Staying inspired hasn’t been a problem. We achieved brand awareness in 2018, brand trial in 2019 and we are aiming for version at scale in 2020 and beyond. As clients and our people and our competitors know, we are starting to achieve conversion at scale, and our desire to hit our ‘20 squared‘ objective, of 20 clients with more than $20m of revenue per annum, is a huge inspiration and stimulation.

So there has been less dining with others, less travel (obviously) and, up until recently, less visiting the gym. But there has been more walking, and particularly with Ferus. In many ways (and I am lucky!) it has been a more comfortable existence.

As for keeping work and real life separate, however... well, I never did before and I don’t plan to change now!

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